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In appreciation and recognition of Seattle's long and illustrious film history, we are proud to partner with Scarecrow Video to bring you weekly reviews of historical Seattle films. Each week we will showcase a new movie, with special emphasis on how these films show Seattle's most filmable locations.

Money Buys Happiness (1999)

Money Buys Happiness was written and directed by Gregg Lachow at the very dawn of what could be regarded as Seattle's indie golden age. The movie is one of several films Lachow made with the participation of Wiggly World Studios, the filmmaking branch of Northwest Film Forum. It is probably the best-known of the Lachow/Wiggly World collaborations as the picture was picked up for national home video distribution. The artwork on the video box features some highly misleading graphics that incorporate a looming semi-truck and 100 dollar bills, but I guess that's the kind of thing you have to do to get people to rent an unfamiliar movie.

At the center of the film is a dysfunctional married couple on the verge of divorce. Georgia (Megan Murphy) is a semi-ditzy commercial jingle artist who is one of the few adults that actually likes knock-knock jokes. She is obsessed with an anonymous romantic postcard from her past and spends much of the film hoping to find out who sent her this mysterious love letter. Jeff Weatherford portrays Money (the name is actually pronounced like Monet so I guess I've been saying the film's title wrong this whole time) who is caught-up in several personal dilemmas as he wants to abandon his family, give away all of his possessions, and start over from scratch. The couple inherits a piano from a friend who commits suicide leaving them to roll the bulky instrument across town and their route takes them from Capitol Hill to Belltown to the University District. It predictably becomes a somewhat heavy-handed analogy to their decaying marriage, as they finally decide to split up once the job is complete. Unfortunately, while both actors are appealing on their own, it's really hard to believe they are married, even when you factor in their estranged relationship, and it's even more unfathomable that they have a kid together. This utter lack of chemistry makes it difficult for audiences to invest much interest in the salvaging of the relationship and is, ultimately, the fundamental flaw with Money Buys Happiness.

The film's strengths are the numerous peripheral characters and a solid use of Seattle locations. The movie begins with a group of kids doing a "man in the street" type interview where they ask random folks walking down the sidewalks of Madison Park (near the Red Onion Tavern) what they are looking for in life. This spontaneity of this part is appealing and I hoped the kids would show up again, but this scene only serves to introduce some of the film's themes and characters. As the narrative progresses there are many random encounters with a wide range of eccentric individuals; my favorite is a guy who is a self-proclaimed fake-punching expert. Other memorable bits include a funny scene that takes place at a sleep research clinic, Money's philosophical discussions with a dude played by filmmaker Caveh Zhahedi, and a babysitter who Georgia and Money keep bribing to keep his mouth shut about their extramarital activities. While there is a quick shot of the monorail, the film is refreshingly free from stereotypical Seattle footage and we get to see a lot of the real Seattle. Consistently popping up in the background are neighborhood gems like the Grand Illusion Cinema, Golden Gardens Park, Caf Allegro and Coastal Kitchen. Despite the script's occasional gimmicky tendencies, Money Buys Happiness is a modest charmer created at a pivotal time in Seattle's homegrown cinema history.

--Spenser Hoyt

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